Georgia = Czechoslovakia?

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday, speaking of the recent Russian actions in Georgia, that “This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed.” Examining her words carefully, one could conclude that her point is essentially that Russia is attempting a repeat of what it accomplished with its Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – exactly forty years ago this month, as it happens – but should not be able or allowed to succeed this time.

But are the two military undertakings, separated by four decades, really comparable? You could ask the Czechs themselves about that. Petr Šimůnek of the leading Czech business newspaper Hospodářské noviny devotes precisely 99 words to that question in a piece entitled, of course, 99 Words. (The allusion here is to the Two Thousand Words, a manifesto by a leading reformer of the 1968 “Prague Spring” that laid out the objectives of the Czech reformers.) He doesnt’ have much space to work with, then, but his point is that, yes, they are the same in principle: “A small land under the influence of Russia, which shows everyone by force just who is boss. Scenes of tanks, ploughing down the highways of the attacked state. A world that chastises the Bear, but doesn’t do anything. A violated land, that needs years to recuperate.” Naturally, Šimůnek urges assistance to Georgia: diplomatic, economic, humanitarian. “And next Thursday [i.e. the anniversary of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion] we will also remember Tbilisi, quaff Georgian brandy and boycott vodka. And we won’t forget.”

Ossetians = Sudeten Germans

Also writing in HN, Luboš Veselý of the Prague-based think-tank Associace pro mezinárodní otázky (Association for International Questions) prefers to find a parallel to the Russian intervention in Georgia in the Sudeten question that led to the abandonment of Czechoslovakia by her Western European allies at Munich in 1938 (Russians in a Georgian Sudetenland). His is a more measured view of the Caucasus conflict (perhaps because he gives himself much more than just 99 words to work with). He blames Georgian President Saakashvili for two mistakes: one, the incursion into South Ossetia by Georgian forces that he ordered – which meant not only firing on civilians but also on Russian troops residing in South Ossetia as “peacekeepers” – provided the Russian government with a perfect pretext to finally take care of this disobedient state on its southern flank, which prefered affiliation with the West (and specifically with NATO) to Russian hegemony; and two, in past years he never pursued seriously the real possibility of a political settlement with the two break-away regions within nominal Georgian territory. Particularly Abkhazia, Veselý claims, would have been open to political rapprochement: that territory is not so much under the shadow of occupying Russian troops and secret police, and assisting it in becoming a more open and prosperous society would have been a better route for attracting it back into the orbit of Tbilisi rather than Moscow.

In any event, it is clear that for the Russians have no more real concern for the affairs of the South Ossetians and Abkhazians than the Nazis did for the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia back in 1938: they are rather handy pawns that it can use to further its real aims, which involve the whole of Georgia, as can be seen in the Russian air attacks against Georgian military and civilian targets far from South Ossetia itself, in the hacker-attacks against the Georgian Internet infrastructure, in the sinking of a Georgian military boat on the Black Sea – and in the bombardment of the port city of Poti, which is where Azeri oil which has crossed through Georgia by pipeline is shipped onward to the EU. That last-named action hints that at least one of the main Russian war-aims is to assert its control over what had been an energy source for the EU outside of its control. For this reason, Veselý calls for a much more vigorous European Union reaction, demanding a pull-back of Russian forces from Georgian territory and even from Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well, and dispatching “a military or police mission.”

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